Wednesday, September 03, 2014

H Is for Harry the Hipster

Harry the Hipster is one of Jim Henson's first Muppets, created as a simple sock puppet for Jim's first TV show, Sam and Friends, which ran on the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC, five minutes at a time, twice a day, from May 1955 to December 1961. Not much of the Sam and Friends output survives, but a lot of the stuff that does is pure Muppet magic.

Harry the Hipster is Jim's beatnik side given full room to play with reality in surreal, illogical ways. It's probably best exemplified in this, one of my favorite Muppet sketches ever, called "Visual Thinking."

This sketch is from 1959; you can tell it's later in the run, because Kermit looks more like a frog and less like a sock puppet. (Initially he was just a shape and not a frog.) Very few episodes of the show survive.

Much like the "Coffee Break Machine" sketch I mentioned back in the first entry in this series, this was just too good a sketch to do only once. In 1966, Jim performed the sketch twice, first on The Mike Douglas Show (with Harry the Hipster) and then on The Ed Sullivan Show (with a character called Grump, performed by Frank Oz). Kermit and Grump did it again on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, and as you probably remember, there were a lot of sketches on Sesame Street that were inspired by it.

Harry may have gotten his name from Harry Gibson, a jazz musician billed as Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, who did records of hip versions of fairy tales for kids in the early fifties. That fits in with the novelty records and old songs that Jim would use for his short episodes, usually uncredited and without permission. (TV was a bit of a Wild West back then; Jim used so many Stan Freberg records that Freberg briefly considered pursuing legal action, but just couldn't bring himself to when he saw the Muppets and chalked it up to free publicity.)

It was only Kermit who went on from Sam and Friends, so Harry the Hipster got left behind, replaced in spirit by Rowlf the Dog and in every other way by Dr. Teeth. He now resides in the Smithsonian, alongside all of the other original Muppets, like Chicken Liver, Yorick, Mushmellon, Sam himself, and the original Kermit puppet. He was one of Jim's first Muppets, designed in 1954, and was the template for so many of Jim's mystical hippie characters.

ABC Wednesday


Hildred said...

Too bad Harry didn't make it all the way, - a talented fellow! Thanks for a most entertaining post.

Roger Owen Green said...

You see the Muppets by the Muppet Show, and you think they developed whole cloth (so to speak). The DC stuff always fascinates me

Pheno Menon said...

Hmm I have always found them fascinating

PhenoMenon, ABC Wednesday

Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla said...

So TV used to be a little like the Wild West? I wonder how Chicken Liver looks like, will have to do some googleing.

Great lesson on history :)

Rajesh said...

Good to know this. I enjoyed the video.

Cristina Pop said...

They`re so fascinating!